Shootings, bombings are predicted to follow
The prediction is grim: “The best-case scenario right now is we have some long-gun, terrible shootings, or a couple of small bombings … preceding or after an inauguration that half the country says is a theft.”
That’s the assessment of former CIA intelligence officer and Georgia police detective Patrick Skinner after witnessing events on Capitol Hill.
“We’re not even just talking about our mentally unstable people. We’re talking about … what we used to call regular people,” Skinner told the Independent. “But now they are certainly unstable. And they’re being incited by the president of the United States and United States senators, some of whom are not dumb and know exactly what they’re doing.”
Everybody wants to know: “What’s next?”
President Donald Trump’s allies hope Wednesday’s crisis represents the “last stand” of a “wounded ego”.
Most, however, are unconvinced: “He won’t stop … He’s embarrassed,” a Republican official told the NBC shortly before Wednesday’s assault on Congress.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” another anonymous Trump ally added. “He’s lost re-election. So for somebody who has no sense of shame, there’s no downside to him letting all the crazy out.”
But there’s more to the story than just Trump.
There’s his legions of true believers.
“The electorate is polarised, both sides frame the stakes as existential, violent actors could disrupt the process, and protracted contestation is possible,” The International Crisis Group threat intelligence agency warns.
They failed Wednesday to prevent President-elect Joe Biden being certified as the 46th president of the United States. All that remains is the formal inauguration – and handover of power – at noon on January 20.
Will they make a last stand?
Outgoing Republican Representative Denver Riggleman – himself an ex-US Air Force intelligence analyst – says he tried to warn his colleagues of the looming threat.
“When you put radical, radical ideas together with Messianic belief systems, that is a recipe for disaster,” he told the Independent. “We are lucky things didn’t burn this time.”
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The United States is no stranger to political violence.
It’s had slavery. It’s had a civil war. It’s had lynchings, union-busting – even ethnic cleansing.
“The wounds of those legacies have never fully healed,” finds the International Crisis Group analysis. “The country is awash in firearms, has gun homicide levels unmatched by any other high-income country, and is home to a white supremacy movement that, as discussed below, is growing in virulence. Racial injustice, economic inequality and police brutality are chronic sources of tension.”
But, amid it all, the complicated US electoral process has largely remained free from turmoil.
Yes, there was the “hanging chads” of the contested 2000 election of George W. Bush. And, in 1876 four states sent contradictory sets of ‘electors’ to Congress for the January 6 Electoral College confirmation hearings.
Neither resulted in violence.
But 2020’s electoral turmoil produced just that.
MAGA hats. Confederate flags. Nazi paraphernalia. All were on display for the world to see inside the Capitol Hill’s hallowed halls. Not to mention a shirtless, tattoo-festooned “QAnon shaman” wearing a horned fur hat.
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Now, America analysts including associate professor David Smith of the University of Sydney warn more may yet be to come: “For Trump, this is the whole game; at this point, it seems there is nothing else he cares about. He is desperately trying to hang on to power.”
UP IN ARMS
“I have never seen anything like this. This is domestic terrorism. This is sedition,” political scientist David McLennan told the US ABC on Wednesday. “I will tell my students two things about what happened in Washington, today. Number one: this was not democracy. I will also tell them the country will survive and thrive despite the attempted coup against the government.”
McLennan was upbeat about the eventual outcome: The insurrectionists, after all, had simply declared victory and withdrew.
“It is a lesson, a living lesson for my students,” he said. “Not just to show them the good things about the country, but the things that aren’t so good. But the country can deal with it.”
But other political analysts aren’t so sure.
They argue the fight isn’t over yet.
In fact, it may have only just begun.
It’s a recipe for trouble the world over.
Political polarisation. Race. Cultural identity. Lobby groups. Interest groups. Toxic rhetoric.
In recent years, the United States – and the world – have become somewhat desensitised to the malevolence filling halls of parliaments and social media chat rooms.
The US discovered all it took just one person to turn such spin into harsh reality.
“President Donald Trump, whose toxic rhetoric and willingness to court conflict to advance his personal interests, have no precedent in modern US history,” the International Crisis Group noted before the November election.
And the cultural maelstrom he has inflamed will not be going away any time soon.
Republican Representative Riggleman saw the machinations unfold first-hand: “Pandering is a political sickness,” he said.
His farewell address to the House last month fell on mostly deaf ears: “Many bad actors who spread spurious and fantastical conspiracy theories under banners like QAnon, Kraken, ‘Stop the Steal,’ ‘Scamdemic’ … are not disseminating information rooted in knowledge but with questionable motives and greed.”
America, he said, was suffering a “fever of nonsense’.
“Disinformation hinders our free exchange of ideas and creates super spreader digital viruses,” he said. “Just like creating a vaccine to eradicate COVID-19, we must work together to inoculate against the social contagion of disinformation, conspiracies, anti-Semitism, dehumanisation, racism, Deep State cabal nonsense, cults, and those grifters posing as servants of the people.”
According to the University of Sydney’s Dr Smith, the United States president has led his nation through a radicalisation process.
“It was inevitable at least some Americans would take the word of their current president very seriously,” he said. “Having fired them up in this way, it becomes much harder to control mob behaviour.”
“We’re gonna walk down to the Capitol,” President Trump said on Wednesday, “because you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength.”
It’s the kind of heated rhetoric one has come to expect from the 45th president.
This time it turned real.
Not that Trump minded.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long,” he tweeted as the occupation of Capitol Hill unfolded.
The next few months will reveal whether or not the United States’ discredited and neutered public institutions have the capacity to lead the nation through tumultuous sociopolitical change.
“If not, the world’s most powerful country could face a period of growing instability and increasingly diminished credibility abroad,” the Crisis Group report warns.
“On some level, I think they know they can’t actually seize power. There’s almost this carnival element to it of these people delighting in causing complete chaos,” he writes.
“Whether it’s Trump or his rioting supporters, if they can’t get their own way, if they can’t win, they’ll just create as much chaos as possible and revel in the absurdity of it.”
Others, such as extremism analyst Marc-Andre Argentino of Concordia University, expect things only to get worse.
“What will happen now? QAnon, along with other far-right actors, will likely continue to come together to achieve their insurrection goals,” he writes. “This could lead to a continuation of QAnon-inspired violence as the movement’s ideology continues to grow in American culture.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel